Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My experiences while serving as an At-Large member of the Gloucester County, Virginia Public Utilities Advisory Committee (PUAC) (The 5th in a series of articles about my experiences and findings)

Our Public Sewer Collection System

Like our public water system, parts of our public sewer collection system are very old and in need of attention sooner than later. Our sewer system is made up of a series of underground pipes, manholes and pumping stations; with some components in the Courthouse area dating back to the 1950’s.

Many of the Courthouse area sewer components and components in other areas of our sewer system are not sealed to prevent rain and ground water from entering the system and to prevent sewer water from escaping into the environment. In fact there is at least one building in the Courthouse area that has its storm drain pipes connected to our public sewer system. When rain and groundwater enter our sewer system it greatly increases the amount of sewer water that must be treated before it can be released back into the environment. Rain and ground water infiltration also increases the workload on our pumping stations, causing some stations to be flooded and overwhelmed during heavy rain and flood events. Because sewer pumping stations are typically built on low land, overwhelmed and flooded sewer systems have the potential to cause negative environmental impacts to our creeks, rivers, streams, etc. All of these negative impacts equate to a lot of tax and utility customer dollars being flushed down the drain.

Environmentally sound, operationally capable and dependable pumping stations are necessary components of our sewer system. Some of our older pumping stations pose significant operational and environmental risks. At least two of our pumping stations need to be completely replaced due to their age, size and the way they were built. We also have several pumping stations that need to be upgraded because they are so old that it is impossible to obtain repair and replacement parts. These stations typically contain two pumps, but some of our stations only have one operational pump. Not having an operational backup pump significantly decreases dependability and greatly increases environmental and other risks. It will cost a substantial amount of money to upgrade the pumping stations that need it, but it will cost far less than complete replacement of the stations. The needs of our pumping stations are all part of normal public sewer system operations and maintenance and should have been financially planned for years ago.

Employee safety in and around sewer pump stations, manholes and other such high risk areas should always be a high priority to those we hire and elect. Sadly and alarmingly that is not what I found to be the case in Gloucester County. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Sewer pumping stations pose numerous health and safety risks to those who operate and maintain them. Sewer gases can form in pumping station tanks that will incapacitate a person within three seconds. Imagine climbing down a ladder into a tank 15 feet deep with liquid several feet deep below you. Imagine becoming incapacitated after you take one or two breaths. You will fall in and die if you are not already connected to a retrieval system and someone uses it to remove you from the tank immediately. It has happened, many, many times all over the world. In fact, in September 1996 four construction workers died on the Navel Weapons Station pier in Yorktown. One man entered a pumping station tank and became incapacitated. Another man entered to help the first man and he too was knocked out by sewer gas. Another man went in to help, he too fell out. A fourth man climbed in and he went down too. A fifth man called for help when he discovered what happened, but it was too late. All four men were dead within minutes because mandated employee safety procedures were not followed. What is even worse is they had an air quality tester and a retrieval system right there with them, but chose not to utilize them.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA has established mandatory employee safety procedures for entering confined spaces like sewer manholes and pumping station tanks. Failure to follow OSHA mandated permit required confined space entry procedures can result in injury and death of employees; and fines, jail time and lawsuits for supervisors, executives, businesses, counties, cities, etc. Utilities has a portable tripod and wench retrieval system that can be connected to a single person when they enter some types of confined spaces. This system does not work at some of our pumping stations because of they way the stations were built and how much room the tripod requires. I suggested constructing a fixed retrieval system at these pump stations, but do not know if anything has been done as of yet to protect our employees and comply with law. Utilities also has air quality testers, but it appears they started using them only year or so ago. For years our elected representatives, hired government administrators and leaders of our utilities department have been allowing our labor level employees to enter potential death traps, on almost a daily bases, without testing air quality, utilizing adequate retrieval systems or following other workplace safety laws.

Over the years a heck of a lot of what I have shared in this and other articles about my experiences on the PUAC has been made known to our elected representatives and hired administrators. Over the years they have all continued to kick the can down the road. Well, the can has become thin and the road short. Before our current elected representatives throw more money away on pipe dreams of industrializing our County in support of turning it into a retirement community, they need to rectify our infrastructure deficiencies and set in place ordinances that will provide the necessary mandates to prevent further neglect, fraud, waste and abuse of our public water and sewer systems.

Keep following and please share with everyone you know in Gloucester County.

Comments about my articles and submissions for publication on GVLN may be emailed to: Kennysr61@gmail.com
Let your voice be heard on any topic pertaining to our community.
We will publish many opinions the newspapers will not.

Kenny Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank You for taking the time to comment on this article. Please note, we moderate every comment before we allow it to post. Comments do not show up right away because of this.